SOAS University of London

London Middle East Institute

Baghdad Dreaming: Architecture, Memory, and the Modernist Project

Abu Nuwas Abassid Street
Hadani Ditmars

Date: 8 June 2017Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 8 June 2017Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture

The Baghdad neighbourhood of Abu Nuwas has weathered Iraq’s changing fortunes.

Its history has spanned genteel days as a riverfront idyll for the wealthy, through to its 70’s heyday as a hotspot for fun, food and illicit pleasures that would have inspired its 8th century poet namesake, to its post-invasion demise.

But for one shining moment in the early 80’s, it was the site of a rather amazing project designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright drawings from the 50’s. The Abu Nuwas Conservation and Development project was commissioned in the heady days of an Iraq flush with oil money and the hubris of a newly empowered Saddam Hussein, who set out to “rebuild Baghdad” for a 1983 conference of non-aligned countries.

In the end, the conference never happened, due to Iraq’s war with neighbouring “non-aligned” nation Iran, a conflict that would last 8 bloody years and set Iraq on course for three decades of disaster. And Erickson’s designs for the Abu Nuwas project were never realised. Not the history museum, national library, performing arts complex, or series of fragrant gardens.

But Erickson’s mirage-like 35-year-old drawings are a poignant reminder of what Iraq once was, and what it has become.

Join Hadani Ditmars – architecture critic and author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and the upcoming Between Two Rivers (IB Tauris) – for a special London Festival of Architecture presentation on a new initiative to revive the project as a way to reintegrate Baghdad’s sectarianised neighbourhoods.

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, cited by literary critic Boyd Tonkin as a book that “touches places in the nation’s soul that horror headlines never reach.” She is a past editor at New Internationalist and current contributor to Jadeed al-Araby and has been reporting from the Middle East for more than two decades. She also writes about architecture for Architectural Review and Wallpaper. Her next book Between Two Rivers (IB Tauris) is a political travelogue of ancient sites in Iraq that employs architectural heritage as a narrative device to tell the story of Iraq today.

Chair: Charles Tripp, SOAS.

Part of the London Festival of Architecture

Organiser: London Middle East Institute

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